March 2, 2022
Old Testament Reading
26:1 When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.”
When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.
When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.
10:8b “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.
And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”
Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
In our reading from Deuteronomy, I think it is helpful to read the very next verse in the chapter. Verse 12 says “When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled,)
I don’t know about you, but when I first read this text, I had this picture of people bringing baskets of stuff and leaving it there at the temple. Walking away, maybe thankful they were able to give, maybe grumbling because they had to give. I don’t know.
But the rest of the story is that it was used for a feast for all! The people, the priests, the travelers, the poor, the widow, A tenth..so everyone would be filled. They were to remember what God had done. To remember that they are descended from a wanderer, they were oppressed, they worked hard, they were in an alien land, and the Lord brought them to a place of home. Then they were to throw a party that included everyone to celebrate in sharing the blessing.
It was kind of like the first Methodist potluck.
God does not need our tithes. He does not need our fasts. Those are for us. We remember what God has done for us in the past to build up our faith muscles.
In our reading from Romans, it tells us that the Word is near. A pastor once said that God often puts things that are within our grasp, just out of reach so we will have to stretch a little. We are told that believing in our hearts and confessing with our mouths that Jesus Christ is exactly who He says he is. He is how we are saved and justified. But notice immediately after we are told that, we are told that God does not make distinctions between people in quite the same way we do.
I was thinking about this reading in terms of our physical bodies. Some of you may have experienced a heart attack. I have been fortunate so far to not have had that experience. But for the sake of discussion, imagine that you are in public, and you are having chest pains. They are getting worse and You come to a point where you think you are going to die. Someone bends down and says “I’m a cardiac surgeon. You are going to be okay.” Then you pass out and when you wake up, there is that man and You believe now, that he is exactly who he says he is because he just saved your life!
He sits down next to your bed (do doctors still really do that?) and tells you that he was able to repair the damage to your heart but he can tell that you still have some problems. Those problems are going to build and grow and clog up your arteries and eventually, you are going to be right back in the hospital. So, he tells you that you are going to have to make some changes.
You are going to have to change some of the things you have been taking in. Maybe you smoked. Maybe you didn’t eat right. He tells you that you will need to start eating healthier. More vegetables and less fat. And I don’t think he means eat a few peas and carrots at church on Sunday morning and go back to burgers and fries the rest of the week. You might look like you are doing good on Sunday, but the heart doctor is going to know the truth eventually. So you are going to need to stop taking in so much unhealthy stuff.
But! He tells you you can fill yourself up with healthy stuff. You need to start taking in the things that will make your heart (and your body) feel better. Every day.
He also tells you that you have been spending far too much time sitting on your backside. If you want your heart to be healthy, you need to get up and do things. Exercise those muscles.
You might resist a bit at first. But if you do the things this healer suggests, you slowly start to feel better. You start to get stronger. And something else happens to you. You begin to trust the doctor more.
I don’t know how many times I have read a snippet of scripture and thought, wow that’s good. And I stopped. And like the scriptures today, when you hear “the rest of the story” it hits you a little different.
If we had stopped on the first reading we would have thought that God just expected the people to give something up and leave it there. It was only when we read further that we saw it was to be a feast for all.
In Romans if we stop at the first part we think all we have to do is believe and confess. But faith is not a spectator sport and healing sometimes requires us to do our part. If you really believe in the doctor, you learn more about what he wants you to do and you do it and in the process you grow to trust him more. You change.
So when we come to our last reading that is so familiar to all of us. The temptation of Jesus. Trials and temptations are a part of this life on earth. What happens to us if we find ourselves in the wilderness and we start out from a place of weakness? Jesus had fasted and so he was hungry. But He had tools. When satan tempted him, he hit him in the places he thought would be weakest. The first temptation is food for someone who has not eaten for forty days. Man a cheeseburger would be looking good right then. Most of us do not even really remember being hungry. We eat our meals on time but I honestly can’t remember the last time I was just starving, to the point that the smell of food cooking had me salivating and my stomach growling. Satan thought this was a no brainer. But Jesus had an answer. He had not just been reading the parts of the bible that sounded good to Him. He WAS the Word.
Then satan shows him all the kingdoms of the world at one time. Thinking that power would tempt Jesus doesn’t even fit with my understanding of Christ but if I look at it in terms of Him being moved to compassion because to see all the kingdoms of the world, he would see all of the pain and poverty and oppression. It seems to me that the temptation would be to have the power to fix it.
The last temptation is that God will save You no matter what.
Can you imagine sitting in your hospital bed and the surgeon walks in and you cram that cheeseburger and fries in your mouth and dare him to say anything. Dare him, that he can’t fix you again. That just seems silly.
If you continue to live unhealthy and you show up at the same hospital in an ambulance, the surgeon won’t refuse to help you. But the consequences to your life because of your choices? The damage they caused? You still have to deal with that.
So maybe during this season of Lent as we prepare our hearts for Easter, we can be working out spiritually. Feeding our hearts and our minds on all of God’s Word. Building our faith muscles by remembering all that God has done in the past with gratitude and learning to trust and rest in the peace that God has plans for each of us and though we each have our own work to do, Jesus already did the hardest part. As we do all these things, spending time in prayer, spending time with the Word, serving God in whatever way He puts in your path, my prayer for each of us is that we grow closer to God because He will work in and through our hearts.
We are living in a time that feels like a constant barrage of bad news. The pandemic, economics, politics, war, We as Methodists, believe in action. We believe in service. Times like these can make us feel overwhelmed. I think of the old time bucket brigades they used to put out fires. What happens when your bucket feels like it is empty?
We have tools. We have these faith muscles that we have exercised and strengthened. Not just because we have a good coach or doctor or whatever metaphor makes the most sense to you. Because it doesn’t matter how many Sundays we sit in a pew or how good a sermon is preached from the pulpit, if we do not do the work ourselves. And even if we do that work and we have “Popeye” spinach sized faith muscles, sometimes even if we are walking the walk as well as talking the talk, we are going to look down and find our bucket is empty. That is where our community of believers comes in. If my bucket is empty, I can turn to one of you and you will loan me some of your faith. If your bucket is empty, I pray that you know that I will loan you some of my faith.
I spoke a couple of weeks ago on decluttering your heart. If my words today sound similar, there is good reason for that. Lent is a time for preparing our hearts. For me, that means several things. It means spring cleaning in my heart. It means letting God show me the things that need to go. It also means letting God show me what needs to stay and what He wants to fill me with. It means doing the work and for that I need God, and I need you.
I have been in the old testament in my readings since August and the biggest lesson for me and also the biggest challenge for speaking at church is that the message over and over again is the same. We are told that we are to love God and love others…in that order.
In the coming weeks we will need those spiritual muscles because we will be taking a journey…all the way to the cross. We may lose some things on the way. We may gain some things we didn’t even know we needed. But spoiler alert! The cross is not the end. It’s the beginning! Amen? Amen!